CSUN alumni share documentary at Cinematheque Theater

(Left to Right) Kate Ryan and professor Maria Elena de las Carreras listen to questions during a Q&A session at the CSUN Cinematheque. Photo Credit: Katie Donahue / Staff Reporter

Two CSUN alumni presented their documentary films Friday night in the CSUN Cinematheque.

Kate Ryan and Paul Laverack are both 2007 graduates of the Cinema and Television Arts (CTVA) program.

Laverack’s documentary, “Survive the Night,” chronicled the experience of CSUN students as they spent the night on campus in November 2009 to get a glimpse of the struggles that the homeless endure.

Students slept in boxes and bundled up in sleeping bags as they endured the cold. In the documentary, several guest speakers shared their personal experiences of homelessness.

“It is the truth as I saw it,” Laverack said.

According to the documentary, one in every 230 people in California is homeless.

Prior to the experience, he said the homeless were invisible to him, but now they are visible. He said he now carries food and water in his car to give to those he comes across on freeway off-ramps.

He said his original conception of the documentary was that it was just about homelessness, but as he began the editing process, it became something more.

It was also about middle-class college students struggling to put themselves in a homeless person’s shoes. Some succeeded, he said, and some didn’t.

Ryan’s documentary, entitled “Point of View: A Dogumentary,” gave an insight into the various attitudes a group of people from Los Angeles have toward their dogs. The film was her CSUN senior thesis project.

After the screening, Ryan said her inspiration for the documentary struck when she was on a plane from Russia. A woman brought her Egyptian hairless cats on the plane and took them out of the carrier.

She treated them like children, Ryan said, and that incident is what sparked her interest in the relationship people have with dogs.

A clip was shown of Ryan’s unfinished documentary titled “Dark End of the Street: The Untold Story of the Roma People.” The film examines the lives of a community of people living in Sofia, Bulgaria. They were sent to live in boxcars for six months by the government and promised housing, but 10 years later, they still live there in deplorable conditions.

Ryan filmed in Bulgaria for five weeks, and said she plans to return to shoot a follow-up to the piece before it is finished.

She said no men would consent to be interviewed for the documentary because in the past they have had journalists promise to help them, only to take pictures and write stories.

“You took what you got and that was all you had,” she said of the process.

She said she knew a pastor who is Bulgarian, and he was able to act as a liaison between Ryan and the Roma people.

The pastor told the people she was there with good intentions, but men still yelled at her as she filmed.

When she arrived for the last day of filming, a group of men had a machete and told her not to get out of her car, so she left.

“That experience kind of traumatized me,” Ryan said, adding that it was difficult for her to know they didn’t truly understand her motivations for being there.

She said her documentary will likely never accomplish what the Roma people need.

After the screening, she said there are parallels between the treatment of the Roma people and how minorities are treated here in the U.S. in terms of illegal immigration and the treatment of Native Americans.

Maria Elena de las Carreras, CTVA professor, said it is important to gain the trust of the subjects who are being documented.

“There’s a moment when you first approach someone and they size you up” and decide in a moment if you’re someone they can trust, Laverack said.

Ryan and Laverack said the objective of a documentary may change during the filming process.

“It occurred to me that there are no homeless people in my movie about homelessness,” he said.

Laverack then went to Skid Row with a photographer and photographed several of the homeless who live there and included the images in his documentary.

Ryan said the documentary about the Roma people is going to be a lot more balanced than she originally planned, and she will include interviews with government officials and sociologists.

Both Ryan and Laverack spoke fondly of their time in the CTVA program.

“It’s really fun coming to a place where ideas matter,” Laverack said.

Victoria Gonzalez, a 2007 CSUN graduate, said there was a nice connection in terms of the theme of the documentaries.

“It dealt with diversity,” the 25-year-old said.

Gonzalez, who is a current community director in the CSUN dorms, said the documentaries exposed students to different societies and people.

De las Carreras told students that potential stories are everywhere.

“All we have to do is listen, all we have to do is look,” she said.